I had been having trouble sleeping. Lying in bed watching the night sky change as the hours pass. Planes fly overhead of our house, all hours of the night, low and coming in for landing or taking off from Philly. Heading somewhere else, or from somewhere else to here. I wonder who is gripping the armrest. Who is crying? Who is drunk and doesn't want to be? Who is annoyed? Who is grateful? Who is excited? Who is content? Who is indifferent? Where are they going?
I say up to them:
You are not the only person in the world to feel like this.
Perhaps I should write it on the roof of my house.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
That is the first step of tonglen, if it is a meditation practice you want to cultivate. Just to think that you are not the only person to suffer in this particular way that you are suffering. And further, since you are feeling it, perhaps you should feel it for all the people suffering from that particular brand of suffering. That is a kind of immediate tonglen practice.
Perhaps it is not comforting to be one of the many sufferers. I find it comforting to think tribally, act individually. By thinking as a tribe, I know someone has gone through what I have gone through and they have figured out a solution. All I have to do is ask for help. I find comfort in knowing that things will change, that my emotions do not come with a tattoo artist.
I have been thinking about suffering a great deal lately. As my friends suffer from differing experiences. I have been thinking about sitting in discomfort, anger, sadness, grief, resentment without reacting to it. And honestly, I don't know how to do that well. I think I linked to this piece once before by Pema Chodron about Anger and Aggression and she says that anger is such an uncomfortable emotion, it literally shakes us until it comes out. We want to change anger so desperately, we are willing to fight, yell, hurt people, just because dealing with having to make amends is easier than sitting in anger.
I have been fascinated with this idea of self-compassion since I got sober and realized self-pity is one of the defining characteristics of me and of most alcoholics. As they say, "Poor me. Poor me. Pour me another drink." I think of self-pity as self-compassion run riot. I'm trying not to let anything run riot in my life anymore. So, I am trying to change my self-pitying tendencies to self-compassionate habits.
Every time I call my sponsor about a problem, or a resentment, or an issue, she says the problem is me. It pisses me off, because I want people to agree with me. She is nice about it. She says she loves me. She listens, but then she tells me the problem is with me. And you know what, it is me. She said I have not accepted that life is exactly as it should be. Honestly, I never believed that life was exactly as it should be. I always thought that I should get the boy I want, the job I want, the house I want, and if I didn't, life wasn't as it should be. Hardest to accept is her death. I wanted Lucia here. And I thought she should be here. But she was not here.
People said it all the time to me in this community, "Your baby should be in your arms." I believed them, and I believed me. No amount of magical thinking, or righteous indignation, brought her back. I rewrote that book a thousand times in my head. And it always ended the same.
Conversely, everything that happened after--the bridges I burned, the people I hurt, the bottles of bourbon I drank, the tears I cried, the resentments I cultivated, the angry emails I sent, the self-pitying and unfair blog posts I wrote, the victimization--I cannot change any of those things. Even as I was plotting my course of isolation, I thought it shouldn't be this way. I thought I should be given a wide berth to be an asshole, grieve angrily, self-righteously, demand better behavior from people. I thought my bad behavior was justified and everyone else should be held to unrealistic standards of saintliness and compassion.
None of those things helped me grieve. None of those things helped me accept Lucia was dead. They distracted me from feeling the depth of her death. I couldn't control her death, so I tried to control everything else. It is not something I am proud of. I will not repeat those behaviors again, but I cannot change that part of my story. I could only be who I was. I didn't know what I didn't know.
And so three plus years out, my nights up late involve self-forgiveness. Apologizing to myself for being such an asshole. For not knowing what I didn't know. I am learning about my incredibly complex self-denial, and the ways in which I tried to deny feeling any kind of suffering even while I was in the middle of suffering.
Monday, on our local NPR station, Dr. Kristin Neff was the guest of Voices in the Family, talking about self-compassion. (You can listen to the show here. It is a good show. When Dr. Neff was speaking, she was asked how you sit in suffering, anger, resentment. And she said, you feel the emotion.
I made a Scooby-Doo sound, and twisted my head. And then it was like all of me felt afire. I don't feel. Not nearly at all. I don't let myself feel almost anything. I wiggle out of emotion. I tell the story over and over. I write it out. I pray about it, but I never quite feel it. I can't even quite describe my emotions. It is just flaming, brightly lit emotion.
And she said, you detach the feeling from the storyline. You stop telling yourself the story that led to the emotion. Despair resides in the storyline. She said every emotion, anger in particular, lasts at most twenty minutes. That is, if you don't feed it. If you feel it, and detach from the storyline, and sit with it, maybe you will stop feeling it in twenty minutes. You give yourself unlimited self-compassion because you are human, and all humans deserve compassion. Remove the judgments you have about your own behavior and sit with it. She said feel where the emotion resides in your body. Do you feel the anger in your ribs?
It was like she was speaking a different language, but one I wanted to learn and understand. As they say, "Suffering is inevitable. Misery is optional."
I thought I would share these thoughts as I am going through them, because in this tribe, someone else might be suffering in this way. What about you? What are you thinking about lately? Also open to answering questions, I haven't done that in a long time. Questions about religion, life, parenting, baby loss, art, writing, or anything really. You can leave it in the comments or email me directly, or Facebook me. And also wondering what everyone thinks about doing Right Where I Am again this year. I thought it would be cool to revisit it a year later. What do you think?